A familiar thing has happened in WPIAL baseball. Seneca Valley has made it to the Class AAAA championship.
But something yet to be seen could also happen in WPIAL baseball. The Class AAAA champion could be a Seneca Valley team with a losing record.
So goes the Seneca Valley paradox. The Raiders have made history by winning and they also could make history with their losing.
Seneca Valley is believed to be the first WPIAL team to make it to a title game four years in a row in almost 100 years. From 1917-22, Allegheny High School was crowned champion six consecutive years. Since then, no team is known to have made a title game four consecutive years.
Seneca Valley made the postseason this year tied with North Hills for the third and final playoff spot in Class AAAA Section 1. Seneca Valley was 6-11 after the regular season and was the No. 16 seed in a 16-team playoff bracket. The Raiders, though, won three playoff games and now take a 9-11 record into the title game Wednesday night against Baldwin at Consol Energy Park. It is one of four title games to be played at Consol today and Wednesday.
Seneca Valley could become the first team known to win the WPIAL title with a losing record. Meanwhile, Baldwin is 16-2 and playing for a WPIAL championship for the first time.
"I told our team everyone has neck braces from shaking their head about this team and saying, 'What's going on?' " said Seneca Valley coach Eric Semega.
It's not that Seneca Valley ever was a bad team. The Raiders had some talent and they also played a tough schedule. Ten of their 11 losses were to teams that made the WPIAL playoffs. But who could've predicted a title-game appearance this year? Even Semega acknowledged he is surprised.
"If you would've said at the beginning of the year, 'Do you have a chance at going to the championship again?' I would've said it's going to be very hard," Semega said. "At the middle of the year, I would've said absolutely not. It's not even possible.
"But now we're here, and to be honest, these kids are not even happy. Now they think they're winning it all. It's just a mindset."
The return of pitcher Connor Coward fueled the postseason run. A senior right-hander, Coward was expected to be one of the stud pitchers in the WPIAL. He was 8-1 with a 1.60 ERA as a junior, made the 10-player Post-Gazette All-Area team and signed with Virginia Tech last November. But in the regular season, Coward only pitched against Mt. Lebanon in the first game because of a back injury.
Coward returned for the playoffs, though, and was the winning pitcher in the quarterfinals and semifinals. He will start against Baldwin and gives the Raiders a definite chance to win their third title in four years.
"Obviously, he would've made a big difference in a few more wins in the regular season," said Semega.
But Coward has been just one big reason for the turnaround.
"Physically, I think we were just as good as last year," said Semega. "But mentally, with handling adversity and pressure, we didn't do a good job with that at all. We'd play well and all of a sudden lose it mentally, and there goes another loss.
"The way the first 17 games went, we were just happy to get in the playoffs. But in the playoffs, we haven't made nearly as many errors and we have had key hits in games that we didn't have before. Nothing has changed with averages, but just when we are getting hits.
"You know how you try to motivate kids? At the beginning of the year, our motto was 'why not us?' That faded away. Now it's 'find some way.' "
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.